Working alone is not in itself against the law, but employers are expected to consider carefully and deal with any health and safety risks for those working alone. While lone working may present the same amount of risk as a job under normal conditions would, these risks are heightened as an employee may have to deal with problems alone, making them more vulnerable.
This toolbox provides guidance on how to keep lone workers healthy and safe. It is aimed at anyone who employs or engages with lone workers, as well as self-employed people who work alone.
Who are lone workers and what jobs do they do?
Lone workers are those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision. Some examples are outlined below.
In fixed establishments:
- A person working alone in a small workshop, petrol station, kiosk or shop.
- People who work from home other than in low-risk, office-type work (separate guidance covers homeworkers doing low-risk work – see the end of the leaflet for details).
- People working alone for long periods, eg in factories, warehouses, leisure centres or fairgrounds.
- People working on their own outside normal hours, eg cleaners and security, maintenance or repair staff.
As mobile workers working away from their fixed base:
- Workers involved in construction, maintenance and repair, plant installation and cleaning work.
- Agricultural and forestry workers.
- Service workers, including postal staff, social and medical workers, engineers, estate agents, and sales or service representatives visiting domestic and commercial premises.
How must employers control the risks?
Employers have a duty to assess risks to lone workers and take steps to avoid or control risks where necessary.
This must include:
- involving workers when considering potential risks and measures to control them;
- taking steps to ensure risks are removed where possible, or putting in place control measures, e.g. carefully selecting work equipment to ensure the worker is able to perform the required tasks in safety;
- instruction, training and supervision; and
- reviewing risk assessments periodically or when there has been a significant change in working practice.
This may include:
- being aware that some tasks may be too difficult or dangerous to be carried out by an unaccompanied worker;
- where a lone worker is working at another employer’s workplace, informing that other employer of the risks and the required control measures; and
- when a risk assessment shows it is not possible for the work to be conducted safely by a lone worker, addressing that risk by making arrangements to provide help or back-up.
Risk assessment should help employers decide on the right level of supervision. There are some high-risk activities where at least one other person may need to be present.
- working in a confined space, where a supervisor may need to be present, along with someone dedicated to the rescue role;
- working at or near exposed live electricity conductors; and
- working in the health and social care sector dealing with unpredictable client behaviour and situations.
Which particular problems affect lone workers?
Lone workers should not be put at more risk than other employees. Establishing a healthy and safe working environment for lone workers can be different from organising the health and safety of other employees. Some of the issues that need special attention when planning safe working arrangements are set out below, but your risk assessment process should identify the issues relevant to your circumstances.
Why is training particularly important for lone workers?
Training is particularly important where there is limited supervision to control, guide and help in uncertain situations. Training may also be crucial in enabling people to cope in unexpected circumstances and with potential exposure to violence and aggression.
Lone workers are unable to ask more experienced colleagues for help, so extra training may be appropriate. They need to be sufficiently experienced and fully understand the risks and precautions involved in their work and the location that they work in.
Employers should set the limits to what can and cannot be done while working alone. They should ensure workers are competent to deal with the requirements of the job and are able to recognise when to seek advice from elsewhere.
Procedures must be put in place to monitor lone workers as effective means of communication are essential. These may include:
- supervisors periodically visiting and observing people working alone;
- pre-agreed intervals of regular contact between the lone worker and supervisor, using phones, radios or email, bearing in mind the worker’s understanding of English;
- manually operated or automatic warning devices which trigger if specific signals are not received periodically from the lone worker, eg staff security systems;
- implementing robust system to ensure a lone worker has returned to their base or home once their task is completed.
What happens if a person becomes ill, has an accident, or there is an emergency?
Your assessment of the risks should identify foreseeable events. Emergency procedures should be established and employees trained in them.
Information regarding emergency procedures should be given to lone workers. Your risk assessment may indicate that mobile workers should carry first-aid kits and/or that lone workers need first-aid training. They should also have access to adequate first-aid facilities.